EDF Health

The elephant in the room: potential biopersistence of short-chain PFAS

Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director

In January 2018, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientists published a peer-reviewed journal article stating a commonly used raw material to make greaseproof paper is likely to persist in the human body. FDA scientists’ sophisticated analysis and remarkable conclusion raises questions about the broad assumption that short-chain perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), as a class, did not accumulate.

Strangely, two recent reviews funded by the FluoroCouncil, ignored FDA scientists’ study even though it was published ten months before the industry group submitted their analysis for peer-review. The peer reviewers appear to have missed the omission as well. As a result, the industry evaluations continue to perpetuate the flawed assumptions, concluding that perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) and related short-chain PFAS “present negligible human health risk” and that this substance alone is a suitable marker for the “safety of fluorotelomer replacement chemistry.”

In this blog, we discuss the differences between the studies and the implications of the discordance between FDA’s and industry’s conclusions for the safety assessment of short-chain PFAS.

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New study: Using interactive online tools to publicize lead service line locations and promote replacement

By Sofia Hiltner, Rainer Romero, Lindsay McCormick and Tom Neltner

EDF study evaluates interactive online tools in three Ohio cities that help users know which addresses have a lead service line.

In 2016, EPA called upon states to work with drinking water utilities to make publicly available the location of lead service lines (LSLs, the lead pipes that connect the main under the street to buildings) via maps or other mechanisms. Ohio led the way with legislation requiring more than 1,800 utilities to submit static PDF maps that showed where LSLs were likely to be present and then posting the maps online. Three cities in the state took the effort a step further to communicate the information to their customers by posting online tools. In 2016, Cincinnati posted an interactive map of LSLs modeled after one posted by Washington, DC earlier that year. The next year, Columbus posted an interactive map and Cleveland posted a search engine enabling anyone to check the service line material at an address.

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City of Washington, DC requires lead pipe disclosure and tackles past partial LSL replacements

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

Washington, DC estimates there are 48,000 lead service lines (LSLs) on private property, 46 percent of the total number of service lines identified by the District. While the District has not yet set a goal of eliminating LSLs, it has taken positive steps to assist residents in replacing LSLs. It has prioritized avoiding partial LSL replacements, which are likely to increase residents’ exposure to lead, especially in the months following the disturbance.

On January 16, 2019, the District passed a new law that takes additional positive steps. First, it requires property owners to disclose the presence of an LSL to potential homebuyers and renters. The city joins Cincinnati, OH and Philadelphia, PA in requiring disclosure to renters and New York, Delaware, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania in requiring disclosure to homebuyers.

Second, it redresses past partial LSL replacements by providing financial support to homeowners who did not replace the portion on private property when they were expected to shoulder the entire burden. This is the first city we have seen take this approach. The fiscal impact statement for the law also provides insight into the cost of LSL replacement; the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), the city’s utility, estimates the average cost to replace the portion on private property is $2,000 per line. The total cost of the law over four years if fully funded is $21 million.

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EDF considers potential health equity impacts of partial lead service line replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.

“LSL replacement initiatives should address barriers to participation so that consumers served by LSLs can benefit equitably, regardless of income, race or ethnicity.”

– A founding principle of the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative

States and communities across the country are taking important steps to accelerate replacement of lead service lines (LSLs) – lead pipes connecting the water main under the street to homes and other buildings. As part of this progress, many programs have strictly limited the standard practice of partial LSL replacement – replacing only the portion of the LSL on public property, which commonly arises when rehabilitating the main and reconnecting the existing line. Partial replacement is likely to increase, at least temporarily, lead levels in drinking water in homes and may not reduce lead exposure in the long run.

The default approach for most water utilities rehabilitating their main has been to simply alert property owners to the risk of partial replacement and advise them to hire a contractor to voluntarily replace the remaining portion of the LSL on their property.

Other utilities have rejected this approach and gone further to protect residents. For example, Washington, DC offers to coordinate private side and public side replacement to reduce costs and make participation easier but still expects the property owner to pay for the private side. Others, such as Cincinnati, OH, have required full LSL replacement, providing a significant subsidy to the homeowner and allowing the cost to be spread over ten years through a property tax assessment. Indiana American Water and Philadelphia, PA go even further and pay for the cost of full LSL replacement out of ratepayer or capital improvement funds. States are acting too, with Michigan requiring utilities to pay the cost of replacement on private property and Wisconsin requiring cost sharing. For more examples, see our webpages recognizing communities and states that are leading the way.

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California Water Board makes misleading claim that only four water systems have lead lines

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director

[Update 12/14/18: The California Water Boards added a webpage providing more background for customers on the inventory requirement, including the clarification that “user service line” does not include the service line on private property. This clarification was also added to the Status Map webpage.]

The California Water Board posted the results of its statewide inventory of lead service lines (LSLs) in community water systems (CWSs) yesterday. They also became the first in the nation to post the results in an interactive online map. We are pleased to see the state take this important step, but are disappointed that the press release it sent out to announce the map’s launch undermines its efforts with misleading and confusing statements.

The central problem is that the press release fails to be clear that the inventory does not cover the portion of the service line between the meter and the home or building.  As a result, a CWS that removed all of the lead pipes between the main under the street and the meter but left them on private property was listed as having no LSLs. A customer would justifiably – but mistakenly – assume that LSLs were not an issue in their community.

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Lead from a new “lead-free” brass faucet? More common than you’d hope

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director and Lindsay McCormick is a Project Manager.

Until NSF/ANSI 61 standard is updated to reduce or eliminate lead leaching, users must extensively clean and flush new brass fixtures before use and make a short flush standard practice for older fixtures.

During this past year, we undertook a pilot project to tackle the problem of lead in drinking water at child care facilities. As part of the effort, we collected 250 mL samples (about 8 ounces of water) from every drinking water fixture, as recommended in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 3Ts guidance for schools and child care facilities. We replaced 26 faucets that exceeded our action level with new brass faucets that were labeled “lead-free” and complied with NSF/ANSI 61 standard for drinking water system components.[1] To our surprise, when we sampled the faucets a few days after replacement, the lead levels were higher– between 9 and 10 ppb – on three of the new faucets.

The increase left us scratching our heads. Federal law allows a drinking water fixture to be labeled “lead-free” if the amount of lead in wetted surfaces[2] averages less than 0.25% (down from the 8% limit between 1986 and 2014). However, it isn’t clear how much this amount might contribute to levels of lead in water. To explore this issue, we contacted the supplier who said its product was certified under NSF/ANSI 61 and, therefore, not likely the source. The supplier suggested the source could be from existing upstream valves or from disturbing the plumbing. We could not rule these other possibilities out.

A study by Virginia Tech’s Jeff Parks on three models of new NSF/ANSI 61 certified brass faucets found similar results and concluded that even newly manufactured “lead-free” faucets may not meet the 1 ppb limit that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends for schools.

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